Residents and members of the Clean Air Coalition marched and chanted their way into a public hearing of the New York Gateway Connections Improvement Project, which centered around the Peace Bridge Plaza project.
During the public hearing local and international business interest express support for the project, while local residents and health professionals from the University at Buffalo shared their concerns about the project lack of progress in reducing harmful truck emissions from an area as recommended by the UB and Harvard University.
Eugenio Russi the Executive Directior of Hispanics United of Buffalo Challenged the University of Buffalo and Harvard University studies that indicated that emissions from truck traffic in and around the Peace Bridge, has created an enormous cost to public health, booth monetary to taxpayers and Sick people. Mr. Russi indicated “the Peace Bridge and truck traffic are not the cause for high asthma and respiratory problem in the area. The problem is them being poor. Hispanics are the poorest people in Buffalo and they smoke too much and live in old houses full of lead paint. The problem is poverty, not the Peace Bridge!”
The group and residents filed a civil rights complaint against the New York State DOT Wednesday with the United State Justice Department because it feels the public was not properly notified. "The DOT could have done a better job of translating outreach materials as well as the materials at the meetings into different languages that are spoken on the west side to be more inclusive," said Clean Air Coalition organizer Natasha Soto.
While the Clean Air Coalition claims the public hearing was not accessible to all west side residents, the state DOT disagrees. "We’ve been publicizing in local establishments with posters over the last few weeks – 3,400 postcards went out; we’ve been in the local weekly, monthly paper," said Peace Bridge Projects program manager Maria Lehman.
Resident Junior Vidal says the state is overlooking the diverse population in the neighborhood. "They should have probably included a couple more different languages if possible, especially with the new waves of cultures coming into our community, especially on the west side; Burmese, Somalians and all sorts of different cultures," said Vidal.
However, the DOT says it's meeting all its requirements. "The predominant languages here are English and Spanish and so unless we hear something specific, that's what we're addressing," said Lehman.
The U.S. Department of Justice will decide if the DOT complied with the Civil Rights Act. Meanwhile, Lehman says the public comment period will end on Jan. 13. The state will collect and respond to all comments to put together its environmental impact statement for the spring.